I have a well-known secret: I HATE doing TV interviews. I pick apart the way I look, how I sound, and shudder when I hear myself say “um.” And the thought of a live TV talkback with an anchor in my ear — that makes me nervous just thinking about it! AHHH!
For most of my PR career, I was comfortably sitting behind the camera, coaching an array of spokespeople through their interviews. Now that I have joined the ranks of state agency PIOs, TV has become part of my daily grind. Here are a few things I keep in mind before I go in front of the camera:
1. Have three key messages.
Most TV interviews are 2–3 minutes max, so I like to prepare three key message points that I want to convey during the interview. Even on TV I’m not afraid to repeat them, especially if it’s a website or an event I need to plug! I also make sure to not use jargon or acronyms people aren’t familiar with.
2. Practice, practice, practice!
Once I have my messages down, I find a mirror or a friend to practice my talking points. It helps me get warmed up and ready for the interview. I also prepare for 3–5 tough questions I may get, and how I would respond to them. Even if they aren’t asked, it’s good to be ready!
3. Forget the stripes — wear solid colors.
With the exception of white (you’ll look like you’re glowing), and green (if you are being interviewed in front of a green screen you may disappear!). Crazy patterns and stripes can also look strange on TV, so it’s best to stick to the basics. I usually like to wear blue, black or brown.
4. Smile — and don’t look at the camera.
It does feel awkward sometimes to have a smile plastered across my face through the whole interview, but it looks better on camera (unless, of course, I am speaking about something very serious). I also look at the reporter, and not the camera, when I am conducting an interview. The only time I don’t is when the person who is interviewing me isn’t there — like if I am conducting an interview via satellite — in that case I look straight into the camera as if I am speaking with them. And I’m still smiling!
5. Speak and then stop.
If you’re anything like me, you will want to fill the void of silence by continuing to speak after you answered the question. But if you do, you may run into trouble. When I find myself rambling, that’s when I may say something I hadn’t planned to. So I say my point and then stop — that will cue the interviewer to jump in with the next question. And I try to always practice KISS (Keep It Short and Simple)!
6. Assume the mic is always hot!
If not, you may end up with a situation like this. ‘Nuff said.
7. Never say, “no comment.”
Sometimes I have to say “I don’t know,” and that’s OK. If it’s taped, I have time to find out an answer and get back to the reporter. But the worst thing I can do is try to answer for another party or speculate —I don’t want to give out the wrong information. And I never argue with the interviewer — I know I will never win.
8. You have to flag, hook and bridge baby.
No, it’s not a crazy game — these are real media training tactics I use. Translation:
Flagging: I alert the listener that what I am about to say is important. (Example: “The most important thing for people to remember is…”)
Hooking: I end the answer to prompt a question that I would like asked. (Example: “We’ve been able to do this for a number of reasons.”)
Bridging: I get back to my key messages, no matter what I am asked. (Example: Acknowledge with a yes or no, give an answer, and then bridge back to a key message.)
If you listen to a presidential debate some time, you will definitely hear these three tactics at work!
9. Always answer the “gift” question!
When a reporter asks at the end of the interview — “Do you have anything else you’d like to add?” — that’s called the “gift” question. It’s a “gift” because it gives me one last opportunity to convey my key message. I always use it to either state something I had been meaning to, or repeat a message I really want to get across.
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